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As California goes, so goes other boating programs?

There’s no other way to look at it: boating in California has taken a huge hit. And it should sound an alarm in other states where boating programs funded solely by boaters could be raided and diverted.

Earlier this month, the Department of Boating and Waterways, dubbed Cal Boating, died. It was officially folded into the Parks & Recreation Department, ending years of successful fighting by boating interests against such proposals dating back to Govs. Pete Wilson (1992 and ’96) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (’03 and ’09). But under current Gov. Jerry Brown, the boating families in California have finally lost.

“It was a model user-pay, user-benefit program,” says Dave Geoffroy, former executive director of the Southern California Marine Association and now executive director of the new NMMA West. “This clearly jeopardizes many programs and services that California’s boaters received and willingly paid for. No general-fund monies were involved. It was strictly that boaters paid for what they received.”

The administration claims that the demise of Cal Boating is to “cut costs and reduce redundancies in government agencies.” Why does that remind me of the lipstick-on-a-pig thing? How about an agenda that diverts the $69 million California boaters provide annually in their registration fees and gas tax on boat fuel to support an underfunded parks system? The fact is these funds will now be included in Parks & Recreation’s budget and nothing will prevent the funds from being diverted to non-boating uses.

Until now, at least, Cal Boating has successfully provided funds for general boating activities, boating safety programs, law enforcement, and facilities construction and improvements. The very real fear is that the integration with Parks’ funds will result in a loss of services to Cal boaters.

Is there any bright spot here? That depends on how you look at it. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, sponsored and passed A.B. 737 that preserves the old Boating Department’s commission and also requires that one seat on the Parks and Recreation Commission must be for a representative of California’s boaters. However, under the new law, the boating commissioners have no more authority to decide how boating funds are used throughout the state.

Sadly, California’s financial woes aren’t unlike those of many other states. Moreover, in the many states where there are also dedicated funds for boating, it could be all too easy for administrations and/or lawmakers to attempt to divert boater’s money to more general uses. It’s paramount, then, that the industry, including state and local marine trade associations as well as boat clubs and owner organizations, stand ready to defend their user-pay, user-benefit programs. Don’t doubt for a moment what happened in California could easily be coming to a state near you.

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